So here I was three days into a horrible stomach bug, bracing myself on a boat’s toilet at 2am in the dark, while a sizable August swell sloshed in water, soaking my socks. A scenario that some people might politely describe as awful, but one that I found myself not caring about at all, as the exciting prospect of our destination drowned out any discomfort.
The Three Kings is a group of islands that is the stuff of folklore and a bucket list destination for any ocean going New Zealander. Located 55kms off the tip of Cape Reinga, right on the edge of the continental shelf where it drops off to a 1000 metres.
The cold ocean currents here sweep up all manner of life, a greater diversity you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else in NZ.
This was reflected in our catch. Over the three days in the water we managed kingfish, terakihi,blue cod, golden snapper, pink and huge blue maomao, tope, paua, crayfish, trevally even a snakey barracouta on a lob shot (Nice one Dwane).
And that’s just a tiny fraction of the underwater life we saw.
Not the place for a small boat, this was all possible thanks to a 60ft West Coaster expertly skippered by owner Nat Davey. Nat not only has spent a lifetime fishing these waters, but also has two Spearfishing World Records under his dive-belt, for both snapper and striped marlin, so I knew I was in good company. In fact very good company, as also on this trip boasting the same records for women was Rochele Potter, Ant Broadhead and six time national spearfishing champ Dwane ‘Mullet’ Herbert. A solid bunch of spearo’s. Now the water while cold at 14C-15C degrees was extremely clear, with up to 30 metres visibility in places, and a deep blue hue.
The underwater topography here could best be described in one word – gnarly. It mirrored the dramatic sheer cliffs and blowholes on the rugged islands above. Everywhere were huge boulders, massive cracks and steep pins absolutely teeming with life.
On one dive in about 14 metres the bottom had so many pink maomao that they appeared like a floating pink carpet. No matter where we were, a bit of burley soon bought around big schools of terakihi and golden snapper, particularly on dusk.
Being winter this trip was a bit of an experiment, the Kings of course is a proven summer hunting ground, including visits from even larger beaky pelagic’s.
While we had kingfish around us at every dive location, they were often alone or in pairs, and wary of divers, typical winter behaviour. A couple seen would have easily approached that 35-40kg range. Nat managed a nice 27kg specimen after it followed up Dwane from a 30m freedive.
Watching Dwane dive was an education in itself. At times he stayed down so long that by the end of the trip I was beginning to suspect that his magnificent mullet haircut was somehow concealing gills.
I particularly enjoyed quizzing him on all aspects of freediving, picking up countless tips and tricks during our trip. Roll on summer.
Part of the appeal and intrigue about the Three Kings, is that it is difficult to get to and difficult to freedive. It’s certainly not a place to go without someone who knows the area well. The current in places is formidable, with even dangerous down currents occurring.
One spot off the Princess group we approached, on first glance looked impossible to get in the water at. A huge swell sent water 60ft up a cliff, causing waves to wash back off the cliff face. The current here was hitting and splitting either side of the island at an estimated 3-4 knots. Gnarly. It seemed ridiculous jumping off the boat and into the water here, but with Nat’s guidance we found a tight eddy in the middle that held us in place. Having a mobile boat was essential, as any diver who got too close to the edges soon found themselves on a conveyor belt out to sea.
One of the aspects I enjoyed the most about this place was being in an ocean that had such an obviously healthy ecology. A good indication of this was the huge crays and paua up in the shallows, as well as the extremely rare spotted black grouper which was seen. We also had seals and albatross for company.
Obviously not used to humans, one large seal swam up directly under me while I was alone on a point, severely testing the efficiency of my Imodium.
You need to have a lot of things including lady luck line up to have a good trip out to the Kings. Seeing the potential in winter alone has made me resolve to somehow one day get back to this place of truly epic gnarly proportions.
Big thanks to Ants, Nat, Rochele, Dwane and Beuchat.